When they told us that it would be a digital government, the dynamic duo was not joking. Other than retweeting praises pelted at it by superfans, the Kenyan government has become the king of #hashtags. Nowhere is this more evident than in the security of our nation. Security in Kenya has officially gone digital, people! Hashtag it and they will get the illusion that we are actually doing something about (in)security seems to be the motto.
Last week, the president gave his first State of the Nation address in which he stated that the government had launched two major new security programs. One of these is the Nyumba Kumi Initiative, a community policing program geared towards ensuring that communities participate in their security matters, or #NyumbaKumi. Public participation is important in any society. However, I find it curious that the president considers the initiative a major security program. Getting residents to discuss their security challenges and share these concerns with the police is great. But, does it really count as a security program especially if the police, which happens in most cases, don’t do anything with the information? The police in Kenya, as we have come to realize over the years, are ill-equipped, poorly trained and simply unresponsive. Mr. President, we can talk our heads off about insecurity and obsessively share information with the can’t-be-bothered police but does that really a security program make!?
A cursory look at #NyumbaKumi on Twitter shows that it has become a hashtag space for anything ranging from jokes to finger-pointing to genuine concerns about its practicality and efficacy. The government and its don’t-you-dare-criticize-jubilee-because-they-can-do-no-wrong staunch believers continue to promote #NyumbaKumi as the light at the end of the insecurity tunnel. You know what they say about that light though – it could be an oncoming train.
Not to be stopped there, there is now #UsalamaWatch. This hashtag, according to the official government of Kenya handle for reporting crime @UsalamaWatchKen, is meant to address issues of insecurity through allowing Kenyans to report suspicious activities directly to authorities online. Who monitors its feed and hashtag? Is it monitored 24/7 or just sometimes? What is the response time from initial reporting to police acting, if at all they do? Is there a procedure in place to authenticate the suspicious activities reports? How effective has #UsalamaWatch been? What happens in cases of emergencies? Are people expected to just tweet and cross their fingers that police will be dispatched immediately?
Then there is the Rapid Results Initiative, or #RRI/#RRI14, that the president launched in February. According to the official twitter handle @RRIKenya, the initiative is a method of gaining community input and decision-making on a focused topic in a short amount of time. A vague description if you ask me, but nobody’s is asking me…ha! As per its Facebook page, RRI as a strategy provides an opportunity to re-examine ourselves and to review our approach to security. Also on the FB page, the RRI also seeks to discuss the continued evolving cases of crime in the country and possible ways of eliminating them. The Official handle for the Ministry of Interior and Coordination of National Government in The Office of the President, @InteriorKE (sounds like a home design company but that is neither here nor there), tweeted that the RRI’s thematic areas are crime reduction, streamlining the process of issuance of national identification and travel documents. Hmmm shouldn’t these be handled by different departments? What does crime reduction have to do with streamlining the unnecessarily tedious ID and passport acquisition process? There also seems to be many a discussions about insecurity. What is being done with the information that comes out of these discussions? Are the voices of Kenyans even being heard? Or are they lost behind the hashtag Olympics that the government seems to have going on?
And of course you all know it would not be complete without #SecureKE which, according to @InteriorKE, should be used for immigration, police and issues affecting you which need to be addressed by the government of Kenya. Or basically what all the aforementioned hashtags are supposed to be used for.
Clearly this digital security is not working out for us. In the past month, gunmen attacked a church in Likoni killing four and injuring more than a dozen others. There are claims that police were informed of the impending attack but they didn’t act on that intelligence. This past Sunday a suspected suicide bomber died while assembling a bomb in Nairobi’s Eastleigh area. On Monday three explosions killed six people and injured dozens others. Today, Wednesday, bomb experts detonated an explosive device that had been buried outside a residential area near Eastleigh. Meanwhile the government stays pushing these hashtags like goody goody.
Dear Mr. President, we, as a nation, cannot hashtag our way out of the insecurity. You globetrotting isn’t going to do it either. Practical measures need to be taken to address insecurity. Have we not learnt anything from Westgate? What will unresponsive, poorly trained and ill-equipped police officers do for us? How will a security force that seems to have no clue what to do with intelligence help us? What will the overzealous arrests of individuals accomplish? Isn’t your government creating a society that lives in fear of the police and neighbors? How are these hashtags going to change anything?